Lexapro: 6 things you should know
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Sep 13, 2018.
1. How it works
- Lexapro is a brand name of escitalopram. Escitalopram is used to treat certain conditions associated with mood.
- Experts aren't sure exactly how Lexapro works but believe its effects are due to its ability to block the reuptake of serotonin by nerves. This results in an increase in serotonin concentrations in the nerve synapse (the space between two nerves).
- Lexapro belongs to a class of medicines known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Used to relieve depression and anxiety in adults, and depression in teenagers aged 12 through 17.
- Less likely to cause drowsiness than some other antidepressants.
- Has also been used off-label for other conditions such as panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
- SSRIs in general, are better tolerated than many other medicines used in the treatment of depression.
- May be more effective with less adverse effects than other SSRIs.
- Lexapro is available as a generic under the name escitalopram.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:
- Insomnia or drowsiness, sexual dysfunction, nausea, dry mouth, and increased sweating.
- As with other antidepressants, Lexapro may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior; the risk is higher in children and young adults aged less than 24. Monitor for worsening mood.
- May precipitate a manic episode in people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
- May cause lowering of total body sodium (hyponatremia); elderly people or people taking diuretics or already dehydrated may be more at risk.
- May impair judgment and affect your ability to drive or operate machinery. Avoid alcohol.
- May cause a discontinuation syndrome if abruptly stopped or interrupted (symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, sweating, chills, tremors, vivid dreams, and insomnia); taper off dosage slowly over several weeks to months.
- Interaction or overdosage may cause serotonin syndrome (symptoms include mental status changes [such as agitation, hallucinations, coma, delirium]), fast heart rate, dizziness, flushing, muscle tremor or rigidity and stomach symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea]).
- May increase the risk of bleeding, especially if used with other drugs that also increase bleeding risk. Rarely associated with seizures.
- Seek medical advice if a rash develops while taking Lexapro. Discontinue if a severe allergic reaction to Lexapro occurs and seek urgent medical advice.
- May interact with a number of other drugs including other antidepressants, tramadol, bupropion, diuretics, St John's Wort, and drugs that prolong the QT interval (such as pimozide or thioridazine).
- May not be suitable for some people including those with glaucoma, bleeding disorders, a history of seizures, liver or kidney disease, the elderly, or certain heart conditions. People with diabetes may need the dosage of their medication adjusted.
Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.
- Take with or without food. Dosage adjustments should be made no more frequently than weekly - your doctor will advise you on this.
- Do not stop suddenly as withdrawal symptoms may occur.
- Do not drive or operate machinery if this medicine makes you drowsy or impairs your judgment. Avoid alcohol.
- Be alert for worsening mood and suicide-related thoughts or behaviors. Seek medical advice if changes are apparent.
- Seek urgent medical advice if symptoms consistent with serotonin syndrome (such as agitation, hallucinations, fast heart rate, dizziness, flushing, nausea, diarrhea) develop.
- Talk to your doctor immediately if you develop a rash or seek urgent medical advice with severe allergy-type symptoms such as swelling of the face or throat, or shortness of breath.
- Do not take any other medicines, including those bought over-the-counter, without first consulting a doctor or pharmacist and asking if the medicine is safe to take with Lexapro.
- Talk with your doctor if you experience any: unusual bruising or increased bleeding while taking Lexapro, persistent headaches, confusion, weakness, or unsteadiness resulting in falls.
- Other reasons to visit your doctor include an increase, irregularity, or slowing of your heart rate or shortness of breath, eye pain or swelling or visual disturbances, seizures, manic behavior such as recklessness, racing thoughts, increased energy, or severe difficulty in sleeping.
6. Response and Effectiveness
- Peak blood levels are reached approximately 5 hours after a dose but it may take up to a week for levels to become stabilized in the body. An improvement in depressive or anxiety symptoms may not be noticed for 1-4 weeks. Treatment should be continued as directed even after improvement.
Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate) [Package Insert]. Revised 01/2017. Allergan, Inc. https://www.drugs.com/pro/lexapro.html
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use Lexapro only for the indication prescribed.
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